PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 02: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass in the first half during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field on December 2, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger is finding out the hard way this season that the more you throw the football the less success you have.

It’s a tough lesson, one that Roethlisberger who calls himself a “gunslinger” might be having trouble learning. But there’s no doubt that it’s a lesson that he must learn at some point if he wants to get back to being an elite quarterback in the NFL.

Consider this. Roethlisberger is 4-0 this season when he throws under 40 passes. When he throws over 40 passes, he’s 3-4-1. In those four wins, he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions. In those eight other games, he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. His 13 picks are second in the NFL, behind only Sam Darnold of the New York Jets and his 14 interceptions.

Want more? In his three last three games where the Steelers have gone 1-2, he’s thrown 148 passes, just a tad under 50 a game and he’s thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions.

The numbers might seem strange since the NFL has become such a passing league, but there’s no doubt there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to airing it out.

Roethlisberger not alone

And Roethlisberger is not alone at finding less success with more passes. He leads the NFL with 517 pass attempts. Behind him is Kirk Cousins who’s attempted 491 passes for the 6-5-1 Vikings. Andrew Luck is third with 489 passes for the Indianapolis Colts who are 6-6. He’s followed by Aaron Rodgers who’s thrown 463 passes for the 4-7-1 Green Bay Packers. The next three quarterbacks are 4-8, including Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons with 460 passes, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions with 439 passes and Eli Manning with 436 tosses.

You have to go down to the eighth quarterback who has the most pass attempts to fine one with a winning record. That’s Tom Brady with 434 passes for the 9-3 New England Patriots. He’s followed by Patrick Mahomes with 429 passes for the 10-2 Kansas City Chiefs. At number 11 is Jared Goff with 414 passes for the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams. Down at 14 is Drew Brees with 384 passes for the 10-2 New Orleans Saints. Next is Phillip Rivers with 380 passes for the 9-3 Los Angeles Chargers. Then you have Deshaun Watson of the 9-3 Houston Texans and Dak Prescott of the 7-5 Dallas Cowboys who are tied for 20th with 364 passes apiece.

Wilson is Stark Contrast to Roethlisberger

Russell Wilson is 24th with 326 passes for the 7-5 Seattle Seahawks. Wilson has thrown 209 fewer passes than Roethlisberger, 17 less per game, yet he has thrown 29 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He’s also fourth with a quarterback rating of 115.5. First is Brees, who has a 123.2 rating with 30 touchdowns and three interceptions. Next is Mahomes with a 118.1 rating. He’s thrown 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Rivers is fourth with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions and a 115.7 rating. Fifth is Goff who has 109.9 rating with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Steelers Running Game In Trouble

It would seem logical that the Steelers would pull back on the passing game against Oakland this week. Well, the only problem with that plan is the Steelers number one running back James Conner sprained his ankle last week against the Chargers and is out for the game.

That leaves the running game in the hands of 29-year-old Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels who have 18 and 12 carries, respectively this year. The Steelers also signed Trey Edmunds off their practice squad. He has not played at all this year.

Poor Decisions Led to Predicament

It’s incredible how they got in this situation. First, they should have let Le’Veon Bell go in free agency and used that money to bring in a veteran running back and a veteran defensive player. Failing that, they should have drafted a true running back instead of going with Samuels, who was mostly a pass catcher in college.

They could have drafted Phillip Lindsay, who was signed by the Denver Broncos and leads the AFC with 937 yards. He killed the Steelers two weeks ago, gaining 114 yards on 10 carries and scoring one touchdown. They could have also drafted Justin Jackson who was selected in the seventh round by the Chargers. He was a big thorn in the Steelers side last week, picking up 63 yards on eight carries.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he feels comfortable with the trio and will go with the hot hand. However, Steelers fans undoubtedly don’t feel as comfortable as Tomlin with this trio and it looks like Roethlisberger might have to throw another 50 times this week, which could lead to more problems.

Numbers Don’t Add Up for Raiders

The Raiders are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the worst run defense in the NFL, giving up an average of 153.3 yards per game on the ground. They’re better against the pass, giving up 243.3 yards per game through the air, which is 14th in the NFL. Oakland is tied with Jacksonville and Atlanta for 20th in interceptions with nine picks. That could be a problem for Roethlisberger since he had three interceptions against Jacksonville. But Oakland is last in sacks with only 10, so Roethlisberger should have all day to throw.

Overall Oakland is giving up 30.9 points per game, which is next to last in the NFL. The Steelers rank 16th, giving up 23.5 points per game.

Things aren’t much better on offense for Oakland. The Raiders rank 29th, averaging only 18.3 points per game. The Steelers are fourth, averaging 28.8 points per game.

The Raiders have a mediocre running game, ranking 22nd by averaging 105.5 yards per game. But it’s much better than the Steelers, who rank 29th, averaging 93.1 yards per game.

Carr Provides Hope for Oakland Fans

They have a decent passing game, ranking 15th by averaging 241.6 yards per game. Quarterback Derek Carr has completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns. He’s thrown eight interceptions.  His quarterback rating of 95.2 is just a tick higher than Roethlisberger’s rating of 95.1. Carr has been sacked 39 times, fifth-most in the league. The Steelers have 41 sacks, which leads the league.

The Steelers are averaging 320.7 yards passing per game, which is second in the league. They are giving up an average of 229 yards passing, which is eighth in the NFL.

Overall, the game will come down to the Steelers being able to run the ball at least some and Roethlisberger being more accurate with his throws. They also must hurry Carr and hope that he’s not able to connect for any long passes against a Steelers secondary which has sprung some leaks in recent games.

Game of the season for the Steelers

Without a doubt, this is a big game for the Steelers. If they lose, their chances of winning the AFC North would take a big hit and they might not even make the playoffs. If the Raiders beat the Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens could win the division by going 2-2 in their last four games. The Tennessee Titans at 7-6 could also overtake the Steelers for the final playoff spot as could the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, who are both 6-6.

It must seem like a bad dream for the Steelers, who two weeks ago had the second best record in the AFC. But thanks to their fascination with the passing game, those days seem like a distant memory now. To get back on track, the Steelers have to get their running game up and going. A season which seemed so bright is now teetering on the edge of oblivion.

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